Singaporean conductor Boon Hua Lien studied in the USA, spent years in Europe as Assistant Conductor in Katowice and a mentee of the Peter Eötvös Foundation in Budapest before his return to his homeland in 2020 where he leads Wayfarer Sinfonietta and the contemporary music ensemble of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, OpusNovus. In October and November, he is to conduct the Asian premieres of two compositions released by UMP Editio Musica Budapest: Dialog mit Mozart by Péter Eötvös with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, and Octet by Alessio Elia with OpusNovus. He was asked about these premieres and his plans.
Why did you program these two compositions?
When I was invited to a debut with Hong Kong Sinfonietta, they specifically requested a contemporary piece. If you look at this orchestra’s program, you’ll find that they quite often begin their concerts with contemporary works. I offered more than one options to the organizers, and I was glad that they chose this one. Dialog mit Mozart has so many colors, wittiness, and brilliance; whenever I heard this work by Eötvös, I always recognized how strongly audience-facing it is: usually, you see big smile on everyone’s face listening to it.
Concerning Elia’s Octet: Four years ago, at a competition in Budapest, I had the possibility to conduct another composition by Elia. Now, when I’m leading the contemporary ensemble of the Conservatory in Singapore, we work every semester on different pieces of the 20th and 21st century repertoire. Last year, we had Stravinsky’s Octet, so I took the opportunity to program Elia’s work, written for the same wind ensemble and inspired by Stravinsky’s composition. Considering the situation, I also had pedagogical goals with programing this because I am sure that young instrumentalists can learn a lot from studying and performing it.
After you have been studying and working in the USA and Europe for years, you decided to return to Singapore. How do you see chances of Western music in Singapore and generally in Eastern Asia?
After my time in Poland ended, I got an invitation from the Conservatory of Singapore, my original alma mater. In Singapore, my first impression was that the audience tended to be more conservative. However, we’ve recently performed a piece by Xenakis, Aroura for string ensemble, and the audience became wild, it was amazing how they loved it, that meant a pleasant surprise for me. This kind of raw energy had an unavoidable impact even on an audience that is not familiar with this kind of music. Working with my own ensemble, Wayfarer Sinfonietta, I’m determined to push boundaries in programming as far as I can. It seems that I’ve become a specialist for contemporary music: I will conduct Singapore Symphony Orchestra with the world premiere of an oratorio by two local composers, written for the 20-years anniversary of our concert hall. And I still maintain connection to European orchestras: I recently participated at Premio Guido Cantelli in Torino, and I’ll soon return to Hungary for a concert with Pannon Philharmony in Pécs, featuring the Violin Concerto by Donghoon Shin.
Photo: Bálint Hrotkó / Peter Eötvös Foundation